Solitaire


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4. Four

TWO

 

The large majority of teenagers who attend Higgs are soulless, conformist idiots. I have successfully integrated myself into a small group of girls who I consider to be ‘good people’, but sometimes I still feel that I might be the only person with a consciousness, like a video-game protagonist, and the rest are computer-generated extras who have only a select few actions, such as ‘initiate meaningless conversation’ and ‘hug’.

The other thing about Higgs teenagers, and maybe most teenagers, is that they put very little effort into ninety per cent of everything. I don’t think that this is a bad thing because there’ll be lots of time for ‘effort’ later in our lives, and trying too hard at this point is a waste of energy which might otherwise be spent on lovely things such as sleeping and eating and illegally downloading music. I don’t really try hard to do anything. Neither do many other people. Walking into the common room and being greeted by a hundred teenagers slumped over chairs, desks and the floor is not an unusual occurrence. It’s like everyone’s been gassed.

Kent hasn’t arrived yet. I head over to Becky and Our Lot in the computer corner; they seem to be having a conversation about whether Michael Cera is actually attractive or not.

“Tori. Tori. Tori.” Becky taps me repeatedly on the arm. “You can back me up on this. You’ve seen Juno, yeah? You think he’s cute, right?” She slaps her hands against her cheeks and her eyes kind of roll backwards. “Awkward boys are the hottest, aren’t they?”

I place my hands on her shoulders. “Stay calm, Rebecca. Not everyone loves the Cera like you do.”

She starts to babble on about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, but I’m not really listening. Michael Cera is not the Michael I’m thinking about.

I somehow excuse myself from this discussion and begin to patrol the common room.

Yes. That’s right. I’m looking for Michael Holden.

At this point, I’m not really sure why I am looking for him. As I’ve probably already implied, I do not get interested in very many things, particularly not people, but it irritates me when someone thinks that they can start a conversation and then just get up and leave.

It’s rude, you know?

I pass all the common-room cliques. Cliques are a very High School Musical concept, but the reason they are so clichéd is because they really do exist. In a predominantly all-girls’ school, you can pretty much expect each year to be divided into three main categories:

 

1. Loud, experienced girls who use fake IDs to get into clubs, wear a lot of things that they see on blogging sites, frequently pretend to starve themselves, enjoy a good bit of orange tan, socially or addictively smoke, are open to drugs, know a lot about the world. I very much disapprove of these people.

2. Strange girls who appear to have no real concept of dressing well or controlling their freakish behaviour, examples being drawing on each other with whiteboard pens and being physically unable to wash their hair; girls who somehow end up with boyfriends who are just as terrifying as they are; girls who on average have a mental age at least three years younger than their physical age. These girls sadden me greatly because often I feel that they could be very normal if they put in some effort.

3. So-called ‘normal’ girls. Approximately half of these have steady, average boyfriends. Are aware of fashion trends and popular culture. Usually pleasant, some quiet, some loud, enjoy being with friends, enjoy a good party, enjoy shopping and movies, enjoy life.

 

I’m not saying that everyone fits into one of these groups. I love that there are exceptions because I hate that these groups exist. I mean, I don’t know where I’d go. I suppose I’d be group 3 because that’s definitely what Our Lot are. Then again, I don’t feel very similar to anyone from Our Lot. I don’t feel very similar to anyone at all.

I circle the room three or four times before concluding that he’s not here. Whatever. Maybe I just imagined Michael Holden. It’s not like I care anyway. I go back to Our Lot’s corner, slump on to the floor at Becky’s feet and close my eyes.

*

The common-room door swings open as Mr Kent, Deputy Head, strides into the crowd, followed by his usual posse: Miss Strasser, who is too young and too pretty to be anykind of teacher, and our Head Girl, Zelda Okoro (I’m not even joking – her name really is that fantastic). Kent is a sharply-angled sort of man most often noted for his startling resemblance to Alan Rickman, and is probably the only teacher in this school to hold true intelligence. He is also my English teacher, and has been for over five years, so we actually know each other fairly well. That’s probably a bit weird. We do have a Headmistress, Mrs Lemaire, who is widely rumoured to be a member of the French government, explaining why she never appears to be present in her own school. 

“I want some quiet,” says Kent, standing in front of an interactive whiteboard, which hangs on the wall just below our school motto: Confortamini in Domino et in potentia virtutis eius. The sea of grey uniforms turns to face him. For a few moments, Kent says nothing. He does this a lot.

Becky and I grin at each other and start counting the seconds. This is a game we play. I can’t remember when it started, but every single time we’re in assembly or a sixth-form meeting or whatever, we count the length of his silences. Our record is seventy-nine seconds. No joke. 

When we hit twelve and Kent opens his mouth to speak—

Music begins to play out of the tannoy.

It’s the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars.

An instant uneasiness soars over the sixth form. People turn their heads wildly from side to side, whispering, wondering why Kent would play music through the tannoy, and why Star Wars. Perhaps he’s going to start lecturing us on communicating with clarity, or persistence, or empathy and understanding, or skills of interdependence, which are what most of the sixth-form meetings are about. Perhaps he’s trying to make a point about the importance of leadership. Only when the pictures begin to appear on the screen behind him do we realise what is, in fact, going on.

First, it’s Kent’s face Photoshopped into Yoda’s. Then it’s Kent as Jabba the Hutt. 

Then it’s Princess Kent in a golden bikini.

The entire sixth form bursts into uncontrollable laughter.The real Kent, stern-faced but keeping his cool, marches out of the room. As soon as Strasser similarly disappears, people begin to tear from group to group, reliving the look in Kent’s eyes when his face appeared on Natalie 

Portman’s, complete with white Photoshop face paint and an extravagant hairdo. I have to admit, it’s kind of funny. 

After Kent/Darth Maul leaves the screen, and as the orchestral masterpiece reaches its climax through the speakers above our heads, the interactive whiteboard displays the following words:

 

SOLITAIRE.CO.UK

 

Becky brings the site up on a computer and Our Lot cluster round to have a good look. The troll blog has one post now, uploaded two minutes ago – a photo of Kent staring in passive anger at the board.

We all start talking. Well, everyone else does. I just sit there.

“Some kids probably thought it was clever,” snorts Becky. “They probably came up with it on their blogs and thought they’d take pictures and prove to their hipster friends how hilarious and rebellious they are.”

“Well, yeah, it is clever,” says Evelyn, her long-established superiority complex making its regular appearance. “It’s sticking it to the man.”

I shake my head, because nothing is clever about it apart from the skill of the person who managed to morph Kent’s face into Yoda’s. That is Photoshop Talent.

Lauren is grinning widely. Lauren Romilly is a social smoker and has a mouth slightly too large for her face. “I can see the Facebook statuses already. This has probably broken my Twitter feed.”

“I need a photo of this on my blog,” continues Evelyn. “I could do with a couple of thousand more followers.”

“Go away, Evelyn,” snorts Lauren. “You’re already Internet famous.”

This makes me laugh. “Just post another photo of your legs, Evelyn,” I say quietly. “They already get reblogged, Like, twenty thousand times.”

Only Becky hears me. She grins at me, and I grin back, which is sort of nice because I rarely think of funny things to say. 

And that’s it. That’s pretty much all we say about it. 

Ten minutes and it’s forgotten.

To tell you the truth though, this prank has made me feel kind of weird. The fact of the matter is that Star Wars was actually a major obsession of mine when I was a kid. I guess I haven’t watched any of the films for a few years now, but hearing that music brings back something. I don’t know what. Some feeling in my chest.

Ugh, I’m getting sentimental. 

I bet whoever did this is really pleased with themselves. It kind of makes me hate them.

 

Five minutes later, I’ve just about dozed off, my head on the computer desk and my arms barricading my face from all forms of social interaction, when somebody pats me on the shoulder.

I jerk upwards and gaze blearily in the direction of the pat. Becky’s looking at me oddly, purple strands cascading around her. She blinks.

“What?” I ask.

She points behind her, so I look.

A guy is standing there. Nervous. Face in a sort of grinning grimace. I realise what’s going on, but my brain doesn’t quite accept that this is possible, so I open my mouth and close it three times before coming up with:

“Jesus Christ.”

The guy steps towards me.

“V-Victoria?”

Excluding my new acquaintance Michael Holden, only two people in my life have ever called me Victoria. One is Charlie. And the other is:

“Lucas Ryan,” I say.

I once knew a boy named Lucas Ryan. He cried a lot, but liked Pokémon just as much as I did so I guess that made us friends. He once told me he would like to live inside a giant bubble when he grew up because you could fly everywhere and see everything, and I told him that would make a terrible house because bubbles are always empty inside. He gave me a Batman keyring for my eighth birthday, a How to Draw Manga book for my ninth birthday, Pokémon cards for my tenth birthday and a T-shirt with a tiger on it for my eleventh. 

I sort of have to do a double take because his face is now an entirely different shape. He’d always been smaller than me, but now he’s at least a whole head taller and his voice, obviously, has broken. I start to look for things that are the same as eleven-year-old Lucas Ryan, but all I’ve got to go on is his greyish hair, skinny limbs and awkward expression.

Also, he is the ‘blond guy in skinny trousers’.

“Jesus Christ,” I repeat. “Hi.”

He smiles and laughs. I remember the laugh. It’s all in the chest. A chest laugh.

“Hi!” he says and smiles some more. A nice smile. A calm smile.

I dramatically leap to my feet and look him up and down. It’s actually him.

“It’s actually you,” I say and have to physically restrain myself from reaching out and patting him on the shoulders. Just to check he’s really there and all.

He laughs. His eyes go all squinty. “It’s actually me!”

“Wh-ho-why?”

He starts to look kind of embarrassed. I remember him being like that. “I left Truham at the end of last term,” he says. “I knew you went here, so...” He fiddles with his collar. He used to do that too. “Erm... I thought I’d try to find you. Seeing as I don’t have any friends here. So, erm, yes. Hello.”

I think you should be aware that I have never been very good at making friends, and primary school was no different. I acquired only the one friend during those seven years of mortifying social rejection. Yet while my primary school days are not days which I would choose to relive, there was one good thing that probably kept me going, and that was the quiet friendship of Lucas Ryan.

“Wow.” Becky, unable to keep away from potential gossip, intervenes. “How do you two know each other?” 

Now I am a fairly awkward person, but Lucas really takes the biscuit. He turns to Becky and goes red again and I almost feel embarrassed for him.

“Primary school,” I say. “We were best friends.”

Becky’s shaped eyebrows soar. “No waaay.” She looks at both of us once more, before focusing on Lucas. “Well, I guess I’m your replacement. I’m Becky.” She gestures around her. “Welcome to the Land of Oppression.”

Lucas, in a mouse voice, manages: “I’m Lucas.”

He turns back to me. “We should catch up,” he says. 

Is this what friendship reborn feels like?

“Yes...” I say. The shock is draining my vocabulary. “Yes.”

People have started to give up on the sixth-form meeting as it’s the start of Period 1 and no teachers have returned.

Lucas nods at me. “Erm, I don’t really want to be late to my first lesson or anything – this whole day is going to be kind of embarrassing as it is – but I’ll talk to you some time soon, yeah? I’ll find you on Facebook.”

Becky stares in relatively severe disbelief as Lucas wanders away, and grabs me firmly by the shoulder. “Tori just talked to a boy. No – Tori just held a conversation by herself. I think I’m going to cry.”

“There, there.” I pat her on the shoulder. “Be strong. You’ll get through this.”

“I’m extremely proud of you. I feel like a proud mum.”

I snort. “I can hold conversations by myself. What do you call this?”

I am the only exception. With everyone else, you’re about as sociable as a cardboard box.”

“Maybe I am a cardboard box.”

We both laugh.

“It’s funny... because it’s true,” I say and I laugh again, on the outside at least. Ha ha ha.

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